While improved American counterterrorism efforts have made attacks on the U.S. much less likely, and the killing of key figures—most importantly, Osama bin Laden—has severely disrupted al-Qaeda, the organization is far from extinguished. Crucial to its continued success are its relations with Iran and the Taliban, as Thomas Joscelyn writes:
When we look at the organization as a whole, it quickly becomes apparent that al-Qaeda has many thousands of men around the globe. Indeed, al-Qaeda is waging jihad in far more countries today than it was on 9/11, with loyalists fighting everywhere from West Africa, through North and East Africa, into the heart of the Middle East and into South Asia. . . .
The Obama administration’s Treasury and State Departments revealed in 2011 that al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network serves as the organization’s “core pipeline through which” it “moves money, facilitators, and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia.” This pipeline operates under an “agreement” between al-Qaeda and the Iranian government. In the years since the Obama administration first exposed this “secret deal,” the U.S. government has revealed additional details about other al-Qaeda leaders operating inside Iran, including “new-generation” figures who were groomed to replace their fallen comrades. . . .
Al-Qaeda [also] continues to have a significant presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and some senior managers are operating in those two countries. One of the principal reasons the group has been able to weather the America-led counterterrorism storm in South Asia is its relationship with the Taliban. This is perhaps the most underestimated aspect of al-Qaeda’s operations. . . .
The U.S. and its allies have failed to defeat al-Qaeda. The organization has survived multiple challenges. . . . From Afghanistan to West Africa, al-Qaeda loyalists are attempting to build their own caliphate. . . . Al-Qaeda’s leadership has [meanwhile] deprioritized professional attacks on the West. The group hasn’t attempted to carry out a mass casualty attack in the U.S. or Europe in years. But that could change at any time. It would then be up to America’s and Europe’s formidable defenses to stop them.